I am currently applying for PhD positions (mainly - though not exclusively - around Germany and Switzerland). As I would like to start as soon as possible and would rather be paid than receive a scholarship, I am not applying via grad schools but directly to potential supervisors.
This is an arduous process as very many PIs interest me, though most do not have the financial freedom of creating new PhD positions on the spot. Consequently I have written a lot of emails and I have developed a short formula which I adapt to each individual PI. The structure is roughly:
- Title: 2-3 buzzwords related to the PIs work followed by " - PhD Opportunities"
- Introductory statement - Who am I
- Short summary of my experience, explicitly mentioning points relevant to his focus and including a link to my full CV
- Explicitly state my preferred topics related to his focus
- Explicitly ask if he has a PhD position opening, possibly including a suggestion of what sort of project would motivate me, and what about him/his group precisely I found interesting.
Here is an example e-mail:
Neurogenetics and Psychopharmacology - PhD Opportunities
Hello, I am a Molecular Neuroscience major from Heidelberg. I have recently graduated from our MSc. program and am currently looking for groups in which to pursue my PhD.
I have very versatile experience in neuroscience - ranging from molecular biology, microscopy, and genetics in model animals up to fMRI, eye tracking, pupillometry, and behavioural tests in humans (for more on this please refer to my CV: http://chymera.eu/docs/cv-acad-gen.pdf ). I would like to continue using a broad spectrum of methods in my research, and put my scripting experience (Python, R, Julia, MATLAB, SPM, FSL) to good use in the analysis of complex data sets.
I am very motivated by research into mood disorders and genetics; and I would also like to augment my methods spectrum with psychopharmacology and NIBS over the following years. I find the addition of these methods particularly important because in my opinion they present the most solid ways of testing causality in correlations between human brain activation and behaviour (as observed via fMRI or PET).
I have browsed your list of publications and I found your neurogenetics work most motivating. I would like to ask you whether you would be able to offer me a PhD position in which I could integrate the genetic focus of your group with brain imaging and brain stimulation (perhaps to elucidate brain area function or psychopharmacological treatment possibilities resolved for endophenotypes). I would also be grateful for the opportunity to discuss further project ideas with you.
I generally just write one email, and follow up 7-14 days later with a second one if there is no reply within the first week. Of the PIs that do not respond to the first email less than 25% respond to the second.
With this email structure (and what I believe is a strong background) I get a reply rate of ~50%, of which all replies specify that the PI would like to take me on - in principle. Actual invitations for interviews, however, are at about 5%. I am thinking this could be a lot better.
Do you have any (different) email structure which you have found optimal? Are there any other details - such as tone and style - which you think are very important to note in such a context?